Speech

Karen P. Tandy
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Operation Cyber Chase Press Conference
Washington, D.C.
April 20, 2005 at 11:30 AM
Note: Administrator Tandy sometimes deviates from her prepared remarks, which are below.

This is every parent’s nightmare.

Strangers are peddling drugs in your home and you don’t even know it. They do it through your family computer. Drug dealers who used to operate in back alleys now appear in your child’s bedroom through the Internet.

Organized crime has set up shop on the Internet, with criminals posing as legitimate pharmacies. They stand on the street corners of cyberspace illegally selling—at a huge mark-up—amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and narcotics like vicodin, codeine, and morphine. Operation Cyber Chase is the first major international enforcement action against online rogue pharmacies and their sources of supply— today we’ve logged off some of the worst e-drug traffickers.

Over the past 48 hours we’ve arrested 20 criminals from India, Costa Rica and the United States. These people were using the world wide web as a worldwide drug market. The Bansal (bhan-zell) organization, a Philadelphia-based international organization of internet drug traffickers, used 200 websites to distribute millions of pills globally.

Operation Cyber Chase shut down this organization and its affiliates top to bottom. The criminal indictments also contain charges seeking forfeiture of 41 bank accounts valued at more than $6 million to divest these criminals of their illicit proceeds.

The Internet has become an open medicine cabinet, a ‘help yourself pill bazaar’ to what makes you feel good. Customers to the websites we targeted today filled out only cursory online questionnaires about their health. We now unmask these pretend “medical” questionnaires for the fraudulent medical practice they are.

The Federation of State Medical Boards has confirmed that there is no valid doctor patient relationship when someone merely fills out an online medical questionnaire that is reviewed by a cyber doctor. As the Federation’s Model Internet Guidelines state: "Treatment, including issuing a prescription, based solely on an online questionnaire or consultation does not constitute an acceptable standard of care."

On these illegal web sites, there are no doctor visits, exams, x-rays, tests, follow-ups, medical histories, or health monitoring of any kind.

The websites we targeted today gave an illusion of safety and legitimacy, displaying photos depicting professional pharmacists in white lab coats in a sterile environment. But in fact, the drugs they marketed were smuggled from India and Europe and stashed in cars and homes, and stuffed in plastic bags. What arrived on customers’ doorsteps were drugs in the proverbial plain brown wrapper with unreadable labels, no dosage directions or warnings, and worse, sometimes with the wrong dose or even the wrong drug.

I want to be clear that there are a little over a dozen legitimate online pharmacies. What is the difference between them and the ones we targeted in Cyber Chase? Legitimate online pharmacies require customers to send in prescriptions from their doctors—doctors who have physically examined and know the patient.

Rogue pharmacy sites are fueling the abuse of prescription drugs, which now rival all other drug abuse except marijuana. Approximately one out of every ten high school seniors has abused prescription drugs.

Ordering pharmaceuticals online is discreet, simple, and quick, but it masks a grave danger. Prescription drug abuse can have lethal consequences, as the Surks family from New Jersey tragically learned. Jason Surks died at the age of 19 after overdosing on narcotics that he ordered from a rogue online pharmacy. Jason’s mother, Linda Surks, is here today as a personal testament to the tragedy that these rogue pharmacies can cause.

DEA is working as never before to put an end to the kind of tragedy suffered by the Surks family by targeting the diversion of legal drugs into the illegal market. We ask for your help as well. Earlier this year, DEA launched a toll-free international hotline—1-877-RxAbuse—for the public to anonymously report the illegal sale and abuse of prescription drugs. We’ve received hundreds of tips already, including those about suspicious Internet pharmacies, and this information is assisting us in bringing drug dealers to justice.

We take a huge step forward with the arrests in Operation Cyber Chase, which owes its success to the tremendous cooperation of international and U.S. law enforcement agencies and to our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Together, the long arm of the law reached into cyberspace to put an end to a major e-drug trafficking ring. ##

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